AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 91 mins/83 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The freighter Corita sets forth bound for Caracas under Captain Lansen with a small handful of passengers, most of whom are on the run from something and aren’t aware that the ship is carrying a cargo of the explosive Phosphor-4 which is highly combustible when brought into contact with water. They run into a hurricane and also have to deal with a mutinous crew before they leave the ship which could be soon to explode, though they later find the ship again and are able to partly rebuild it. However, it’s also now surrounded by a strange kind of seaweed which seems intent on dragging the ship to a particular destination….
Well this is one weird movie, quite possibly Hammer’s weirdest, a barmy melding of soap opera, disaster movie and lost world fantasy which sometimes comes across as a dry run for the four similar Amicus productions in the 1970’s which begun with The Land That Time Forgot, while also possibly being an inspiration for The Island [the Michael Caine-starrer]. The thing doesn’t hang together at all, and some of the material seems pointless, especially the way that the screenplay gives us lots of intrigue and some interesting characters with interesting backgrounds which largely end up being of little relevance, though it must be said that Dennis Wheatley’s source novel Uncharted Seas shares many of the same characteristics. The film also seems unsure of who it’s aimed at, being at times highly juvenile but containing some adult ingredients too. On the other hand the film moves very fast, even during its first third with little ‘action’, and much of the second half has an almost hallucinatory quality which, whether intentional or not, is certainly not unappealing. It’s an utterly ridiculous picture, but I can’t help but like it a lot.
Hammer bought the rights to Uncharted Seas when The Devil Rides Out was finally about to go into production, intending to capitalise on a general interest in Wheatley’s work. The re-titled The Lost Continent was scripted by producer Michael Carreras using the pseudonym Michael Nash which was the name of his gardener. The screenplay follows the outlines of the book for the first two thirds at least, though with much changing of the personal relationships and the continent of the title, which in the book contains two warring civilisations, reduced to a large mass of seaweed and a small rocky outcropping, no doubt for budgetry reasons. Leslie [Barry’s dad] Norman was the original director, but Carreras fired him for reasons which are unclear very soon into production and took over himself. However, he went over budget and schedule, and his father, Hammer Films chief James Carreras, and the studio’s solicitors arrived on set to shut the production down. Michael successfully pleaded to be allowed to finish the film as quickly and cheaply as possible, though more money was wasted when Hammer’s musical director Phillip Martell rejected Benjamin Frankel’s score and commissioned a new one from Gerald Schumann. The film flopped even with eight minutes removed from the US release, some of it so the film could get a ‘G’ rating, and some of it to just speed the pace up. A bit of superfluous material was cut, but so was a mild sex scene, part of the subplot surrounding Eva Peters, and brief flashes of blood, notably a close-up of a gun shot in the head.
As with The Vengeance Of She, we have a curiously haunting song played over the opening titles, and amazingly it actually is about a lost continent, while behind the credits are orange-hued images of ships, rocks and seaweed. The film then begins rather oddly at the very end of the story with a funeral at sea of a child, before Captain Lansen’s voiceover wonders: “What happened to us, how did we get here”? , and we go back in time to Lansen ignoring warnings of a hurricane and ordering his ship to leave port. He’s in a hurry to sell all this deadly explosive he’s carrying and retire with the money he gets, though one constantly feels that he has other secrets which are never revealed. And we never learn why Harry Tyler, who has dollar bills all over the inside of his jacket, is an alcoholic. Otherwise though the screenplay does an okay job of gradually giving us more information about why these people seem to be running away from trouble. Eva was the mistress of a usurped dictator and has now stolen bearer bonds to pay for the ransom on her son in Caracas. She also has a lawyer, Ricaldi, after her to retrieve them and offers her body to him. And Dr Webster is fleeing Africa with his daughter Unity for botching illegal operations. Unity is a right case, casually sleeping with a crew member, then unsuccessfully trying it on with Harry before finding Ricaldi who returns her interest.
It’s not long before we get a mutinous crew, a fraying generator and a rupture in the hull that is flooding the compartment containing the explosives, and the ensuring set piece is quite suspenseful. Our main characters escape on a boat and eventually, in a lazy [though it was also in the book, which I’ve read] bit of plotting, accidentally find their way back to The Corita which is now being pulled towards the ‘land’ of the title by deadly seaweed which has a nasty tendency to crush hands, and from now the film is just plain nuts. A shoddy looking giant octopus with tentacles that barely move and one glowing green eye interrupts one supposedly romantic encounter, then a woman called Sarah [surely they could have called her something else considering that she lives somewhere in the Sargasso Sea?] is seen fleeing towards the ship pursued by pirates and Spanish conquistadors. Actress Dana Gillespie, who plays Sarah, sports large boobs which really are constantly in danger of falling out of her top by the way, while these folk can walk on the seaweed because they have balloons attached to their shoulders [I’m not making any of this up, the picture above is proof!]. It seems that nearby are descendants of the Spanish inquisition who get food from the ships they wreck after they kill all the crew and passengers. And the boy king is a descendant of Quintaro who was apparently “Cortez’s right hand man”.
It’s all very silly, and the details of this kingdom, such as the people they use as slaves, are left very vague. Carreras makes no attempt to make the two main romances in the story believable and as a result they just feel shoehorned in there. The film seems to suddenly arrive at its climax which is poorly staged and very rushed, with these villains defeated ridiculously quickly. Along the way we’re treated to a brief fight between a giant crab and a giant lobster [at least I think that’s what they’re meant to be, it’s hard to tell], and even considering that this is a cheap production, the creatures really are poorly constructed and ineptly executed even when partly shrouded in fog. Of course all this does is just add to the fun if you’re like me and sometimes loves nothing more than having a chuckle at some unconvincing monsters in a film, and I’d still rather watch things that people have actually built rather than things which have been done entirely on a computer. On the other land a fore runner of the Sarlacc from Return Of The Jedi in a pit looks quite good though, as does the seaweed which is accompanied by an uncanny hissing-type sound. The sight of people wading across the seaweed lifted up by balloons and makeshift snowshoes is quite unique and there’s a rather dreamlike feel to the film’s entire second half, even though the constant orange and brown lighting eventually gets a bit tiresome. And the back projection, while still probably obvious to most modern viewers, isn’t bad, certainly far superior to that in the similar bits in the early section of The Vengeance Of She. It seems that some care was taken with the production until it was hurriedly finished.
Carreras does make a nice pacy film here and there’s a lot of good acting in it too. Stern, cold Lansen and the usually sozzled Harry [who certainly wasn’t that way in the book] make a nicely offbeat pair of heroes and are well portrayed by Eric Porter and Tony Beckley respectively. The latter is given some nice lines like, after being told that “The rum is strictly for emergencies” replying “And what makes you think that my hangover isn’t an emergency”? The women also fare well, Susanah Leigh doing a great selfish spoilt bitch act and Hildegard Knef, an interesting actress who never quite became the star her ability deserved, is fine as poor Eva. Micheal Ripper appears as a crew member in a few scenes. Schumann’s largely tuneless, harsh and atonal score is effective backing to many scenes but lacks any real hooks, though the way it suggests a proper theme throughout and only gives it a full rendition right at the end is interesting. An electric organ is oddly used in some almost dance-like cues. The Lost Continent isn’t really a good film, but its sheer eccentricity makes it one hard to actively dislike. I’m not sure that the filmmakers entirely knew what they were trying to make, but I’m glad that they still succeeded against the odds in making it.